I’m sometimes surprised by how people use the word “leadership.” During the facilities planning process, there were people who urged the board to “stand up and lead,” which, translated, was usually a fancy way of saying that the board should do what that speaker wanted instead of what most people wanted. Similarly, this week, we hear members of Congress urged to “show courage,” which, translated, means that they should disregard the clear will of the public about whether to start a war.
I don’t think a leader is someone who obtains public office and then imposes his or her own preferences on an unwilling public. I think it’s a person who successfully persuades the public of the wisdom of a particular policy, using reasoned arguments.
Look at the sea change that occurred in public attitudes toward gay marriage. Who were the leaders? Not the politicians who climbed on board only after it seemed too politically risky not to. The leaders were the people who worked to change public opinion on the issue, and succeeded. Most of them were not public officeholders.
What I most want for the school system is for it to reflect this community’s values as much as it can. I would trade all of my other policy preferences for that one. (I wonder how many of our school board candidates share that view.) I’m sure I would still be unhappy with some of the community’s choices, but I can live with being outvoted in a democracy, and I can always keep trying to persuade people.
What bothers me most about the Hoover closure is the way it has been forced on an unwilling public by “leaders” who did not succeed in persuading people of its wisdom. To me, that’s not only wrong, it’s unwise, because big changes that aren’t supported by the public are likely to be unsustainable. As candidate Gregg Geerdes has repeatedly pointed out, the school district cannot alienate its constituency and then expect to get sixty percent approval for a bond.
I know of no evidence whatsoever that this community wants to move toward closing elementary schools and having fewer, larger schools that are farther, on average, from where people live. I see lots of evidence to the contrary. A commenter here wrote, “I do not believe that small schools are the way of the future in our district.” If that commenter can persuade the public of that view, more power to him or her. Otherwise, I see no reason that the “way of the future in our district” should be anything other than what the community wants it to be. Are there school board candidates who disagree with that?